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Building a Snowball: The Synsam Group Story

Tien Tzuo
CEO, Zuora

This week we’re talking with Andreas Sjöharald, the Chief Commercial Officer of Synsam Group, Scandinavia’s largest optical chain, with over 500 clinics and 3,500 employees. Andreas pioneered an enormously successful subscription program at Synsam which helped them thrive during the pandemic and has quickly become a central strategic imperative for the company.

Tien: Welcome, Andreas! So, let’s just get right at it. It’s 2015, Synsam is the leading eyewear provider across the Scandinavian countries. Things are going well. And you together with the new management took the decision to launch a subscription program and become a global pioneer in the optical industry. That couldn’t have been an easy and straightforward decision?

Andreas: You are right it wasn’t, but since many of us were new to the industry, we saw things from another angle. An industry that hadn’t changed for ages: You walked into the optician, they performed the eye exam, and if your prescription was changed, then there was business on the table. But the incentives were misaligned because the customer wasn’t very happy with the fact that all the old products were useless and the fact that a new investment was needed.

Tien: Fair enough. So, what was your alternative?

Andreas: The alternative is to sell perfect eyesight.

Tien: Of course! You know, when you put it that way, it just makes sense. People might think music or entertainment is a great subscription service because we all listen to music or watch shows. But when you think about it, eyesight’s even better because the need never goes away, right? By definition, it’s a lifetime relationship.

Andreas: Yes. In the spirit of a long-life relationship, we launched a subscription program that covers three types of eyewear and includes an annual eye exam. But here is the key difference: if your prescription changes, we adjust all of your glasses, for free.

Tien: I can imagine not all were convinced about that idea to turn the whole market dynamic around and include the free new lenses when your prescription changed?

Andreas: Well, we realized we had several audiences to persuade. The first and most important were the opticians. They are by default focused on providing great eye care, but also, they had sold spectacles and contact lenses in the same way for ages. But the key to get our opticians to love the subscription was the same key as to get the customer to love it, the new lenses when your eyesight changes, removing all the reasons not to get your eyes checked. Because when people don’t update their glasses, there can be all sorts of negative side effects: eye and neck strain, ergonomic problems.

Tien: That makes sense. What’s the next group?

Andreas: The salespeople. They all have goals to achieve.

Tien: Wait, so that must have been tough, the whole “stop selling eyewear” thing must not have gone over very well.

Andreas: Well, the key here was to get people to understand the power of relationships, not having to chase the market for today’s or tomorrow’s sales, but rather have a recurring customer flow already booked for their yearly eye exam. Once we came one year into the program and the things we preached for in theory also became reality, we could really see the difference in behavior. It got so tangible with more and more slots in the optician’s daily schedule being pre-filled with recurring customers.

Tien: Makes sense. So, I’m curious, what was the result?

Andreas: We have over 280,000 active (and satisfied!) subscribers, and a significant portion of Synsam’ s revenue comes from subscriptions. And if you look at what happened during the pandemic, the power of relationships has been obvious.

Tien: Yes, I was just talking to GoPro about this. Because you already had all these subscription relationships, you were able to survive even though the overall market activity went down.

Andreas: Not only survive but thrive. It is like this giant snowball filled with long lasting customer relationships. It keeps rolling down the hill, getting bigger and bigger for every day.

Tien: I love that metaphor. Andreas: In fact, we now have a saying here: to protect the snowball and these relationships, we do whatever it takes to keep our subscribers happy.

Tien: You have built a beautiful snowball, Andreas. Thanks!

Andreas: Thanks Tien!

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